AMMONIA TOXICITY: Part 1
AMMONIA: A NEW TOXIN TO WORRY ABOUT
In the last blog I discussed how some cities treat their water with a mixture of chlorine and ammonia, known as Chloramine. It was revealed that it is very difficult to remove the ammonia from water treated this way, with current carbon filter technology. Therefore, many of us may be ingesting high amounts of ammonia, a health hazard that is only now being recognized as yet another danger of modern living. In this blog we will look at causes of high ammonia, other than our water supply, and symptoms of ammonia toxicity. In Part 2, I will discuss what we can do to remove ammonia from our bodies.
CAUSES OF HIGH AMMONIA
Ammonia is a normal by-product of processing nitrogen in the body, and is excreted as waste in the urine, in healthy people. However, elevated blood ammonia levels can occur when the kidneys or liver are not working properly, allowing this waste to remain in the bloodstream, which can be poisonous to your cells.
The medical system has linked elevated blood ammonia levels to: the use of diuretics and narcotics; excessive physical exertion; gastrointestinal bleeding; heart failure: kidney disease (including kidney stones); liver disease (such as cirrhosis or hepatitis).
Smoking cigarettes can increase ammonia in the blood since it is added to tobacco to speed delivery of nicotine to the brain, making the product more habit forming. Elevated blood ammonia level may also be related to drug or alcohol abuse, which may resolve itself if the abuse is discontinued.
FAST FOOD MEATS
Those who eat fast-food burgers and cheap hamburger can unwittingly be consuming ammonia along with their “food”, due to the filler known as “pink slime.” “Pink slime” (called “lean finely textured beef” by the meat industry) is a processed beef product that was originally used in pet food and later approved for human consumption. In March 2012, ABC News claimed that 70 % of ground beef sold in U.S. supermarkets contained this additive.
Pink Slime is used as a filler, or to reduce the overall fat content of ground beef, and is produced by processing meat by-products such as cartilage, connective tissue and sinew. The recovered beef material is then processed, heated, and treated with gaseous ammonia to kill E. coli, salmonella, and other harmful bacteria. After coming in contact with water in the meat, the gaseous ammonia forms into ammonium hydroxide. When this “meat” is consumed the ammonia can enter the bloodstream elevating levels.
NORMAL AMMONIA METABOLISM
Ammonia is naturally produced in the body during “gluconeogenesis”, which is part of the breakdown of fats and proteins to be used for energy (a separate function from the use of sugar or carbohydrates in the body). When athletes do a hard workout they can detect gluconeogenesis by their ammonia-smelling sweat, due to the catabolic breakdown of the fats and protein from their own muscles.
In the same way that the athlete creates gluconeogenesis through vigorous physical exertion that draws on the body’s resources, so excessive stress can also cause a similar effect with the fight or flight response. Thus continuous over-activation of the sympathetic nervous system, and ensuing high cortisol levels, can also lead to the production of excessive ammonia.
So, the bacteria in the digestive tract break down proteins into nitrogen compounds, including ammonia, for absorption into the body. These protein compounds are then used to repair cells. This is all very normal and the body is equipped to handle the small amounts of ammonia produced this way.
We produce almost 4grams of ammonia per day just from our intestines. The bloodstream then absorbs this ammonia and takes it to the liver for processing. There the ammonia is turned into urea and re-enters the bloodstream, whereupon it is carried to the kidneys, and excreted from the body by way of the urine. However, if the liver is damaged, and the cells can not remove the ammonia from the blood, it enters general circulation resulting in toxic levels.
PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS OF AMMONIA TOXICITY
Since there is no current medical belief in slight ammonia toxicity, we can get a handle on what the symptoms might look like by seeing extreme examples of the ingestion of massive doses of ammonium chloride by humans and experimental animals.
Early physical symptoms of elevated blood ammonia include fatigue, muscle weakness, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, pain in the back, sides or abdomen, or other symptoms of liver and kidney damage. Excessive levels of ammonia hinder the production of the energy molecule ATP, which leads to fatigue and eventually, flaccid muscle tone. As well, ammonia raises levels of nitrogen-based, damaging free radicals in the body.
Toxicity symptoms can also include breathing difficulties (especially with a burning sensation in the lungs), glucose intolerance, and increased urinary output of magnesium, calcium and phosphate. Generally a large intravenous dose of ammonia will cause immediate hyperventilation, loss of equilibrium, brain damage, convulsions, coma, and death.
MENTAL SYMPTOMS OF AMMONIA TOXICITY
If blood ammonia levels remain elevated for too long, it soon affects the brain tissue, leading to symptoms such as headaches, insomnia, confusion, irritability, inability to concentrate, and delirium.
From the medical perspective, disorders allowing hyper amounts of ammonia into the blood, such as acute liver or kidney failure, are associated with hyper-excitability, seizures, brain edema, increased extracellular brain glutamate, and a reduction in serotonin levels. High levels of glutamate (an excitory neurotransmitter) in the brain, especially when combined with low serotonin (an inhibitory neurotransmitter) levels, are linked to ADD and ADHD, and could also be linked to a wide range of anxiety issues and unbalanced mental states.
Glutamate is known as an “excitotoxin” and excessive amounts of excitotoxins can cause brain cells to swell up and die. The other main excitotoxins are found in Aspartame (Nutrasweet) and MSG, as well as many other taste-enhancers used in commercial foods.
Reactions to excitotoxins include: headaches, eye inflammation, brain edema, central nervous and vascular system problems. When excitotoxins are fed to babies and young children they can cause disabilities including dyslexia, un-controllable anger, autism, schizophrenia, and seizures.
Mouse studies have shown that Acetyl-L-carnitine can prevent neurotoxic damage to the brain caused by ammonia. ALC also is used to treat depression and is a strong antioxidant. Protecting the brain from damage caused by excitotoxins requires adequate amounts of the nutrients vitamin C, vitamin E, magnesium and zinc. Also, keeping balanced blood sugar levels is critical to brain function and protection from excitotoxin damage.
On a more subtle level, the effect of ammonia on the brain include reduced cognition, lack of focus, diminished motivation, loss of sense of self, heightened emotionality and extreme mental fog. All commonly found symptoms these days.
In part 2, I will look at what we can do to remove ammonia from our body, both by supporting the organs involved in processing and disposing of it, and by taking supplements with an affinity for removing ammonia.